Zambia turns to Russia for nuclear options

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Lusaka - Zambia’s quest to broaden its energy mix is inching closer to reality following the September 24 first ever Joint Co-ordination Committee meeting with Russia under an intergovernmental agreement to explore peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Zambia’s Secretary for Education Ms Kayula Siame and First Deputy Director-General of Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, Mr Kirill Komarov agreed to collaborate on the matter.

The two countries will start by building the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Chongwe, east of Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka. The phased construction of CNST includes a Multipurpose Radiation Centre.

“A phased approach will allow us to ease the burden on the Zambian budget while at the same time focus our efforts on establishing crucial elements of the healthcare and agricultural sectors in Zambia,” Mr Komarov said.

“The project will not only strengthen food security and increase agricultural export potential, but will also enable the localisation and the sterilisation of disposable medical equipment, a pressing need, especially in times of a pandemic.”

To date, 91 scholarships have been approved and more than 60 Zambian students will undergo studies in various nuclear science disciplines in Russia. Already, nine graduates in the fields are available.

Ms Siame said, “We believe that a phased approach to the CNST project is a responsible fiscal approach to unlocking the immense socio-economic benefits that this project has to offer."

Dr Rowland Msiska, head of Zambia Atomic Energy (ZAMATOM), told The Southern Times embracing nuclear energy would help the country achieve goals set in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), such as economic diversification, job creation, industrial growth and enhancing human development.

In a research paper making the case for nuclear options, Dr Msiska pointed out that in 2015/16, Zambia spent an unbudgeted US$39,2 million on emergency power imports.

CNST National Co-ordinator Reuben Katebe said, “The use of radiation for food preservation will improve food safety and create conditions for the increase of Zambian agricultural exports. We hope that our information helped many farmers to understand all the benefits that the centre can bring to them.

“The radioisotopes produced here will be used to diagnose and treat primarily cancer and cardiac diseases. This centre will increase availability of high-tech nuclear medicine for Zambia’s population,” he said.

Former Higher Education Minister Professor Nkandu Luo, who is a virologist and microbiologist, said nuclear science would have manifold medical advantages.

“… the cost of using radio, chemo, cancer and other types of therapy on patients seeking specialised treatment has remained a huge burden on our economy because all of them are imported,” he said.

President Edgar Lungu has said Zambia will comply with International Atomic Energy Agency rules and regulations.

In the region, South Africa remains far ahead of other Southern African countries in deploying nuclear sciences foe economic gain.

Besides Zambia, interest in nuclear sciences is growing in Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

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